I promised a review and I finally tried out the new concierge service in town because it was a lazy Sunday yesterday, and my spirit was not exactly willing to leave the comforts of the bed in search for something to eat. So I called up InstaSugo [Facebook here | Mobile: 09274223901 | Landline: 522 1872 / 419 5887] who promised in their page that they can deliver anything in less than 45 minutes. They have a variety of services, including Food Delivery, and for PHP18/km, you can “name the food you want as long as it can be found anywhere in Negros Oriental and we deliver it to you in less than 45 minutes.” Sounded good to me. For the same sum per distance, they also do your gasoline needs, your document errands, your personal gifts/flower delivery services, and your grocery needs. They can also do your medicine delivery for PHP70 per 1k worth of meds, and your utilities/bills payment, free for the first month and then P150/month for 5 bills/utilities. (All rates from their page.) I called them and a polite lady answered. I told them I wanted some food from Neva’s -- my test site since it’s nearest to me. I couldn’t give them my address because my pad has no distinct landmarks around it, so we decided to chat over Facebook. I gave them a sketch with directions to where I lived, and they gave me several snapshots of Neva’s menu. I asked for Hawaiian kuripot pizza and herbed pork chop. They calculated the sum, and gave me a courier charge of P40. I said okay. “It will take Neva’s some time to prepare your order though,” she said. “Can you give us 40 minutes?” I said sure. I waited. They got lost, and so they called me. I waited by the sidewalk. Soon, there was a nice man alighting from a nice car bearing my order. It was all so strange. But it’s very much good service for anyone like me who live very independently, and sometimes wants a courier service to do their bidding—like when you’re feeling sick or lazy on a Sunday. I’d very much recommend the service. I wish they gave me a receipt from Neva’s though. And I still can’t figure out how they billed me P40 for a distance that’s not really even a kilometre. But I can’t wait for another lazy Sunday. I’ve already paid my bills this month.
From InstaSugo: "Thank you for your honest review and thank you for your recommendation. We at InstaSugo are very happy to see someone like you appreciate our service. We would just like to inform you that our minimum callout fee is P40 for 2km and below. We are very open for suggestions to help us improve our services as we are the first in Dumaguete to offer this kind of business. Next time, we will make sure to provide you with a receipt which we forgot to give you yesterday. Our goal is to help people connect with local businesses around the City and also let the community experience what is available in big cities all over the world in the advancement of technology. We are working hard to make it as easy as possible for our customers to access what they need in less than 45 minutes. Once again, thank you, sir!"
Curtis Hanson's passing today breaks my heart. Wonder Boys is probably the best film ever made about writers, and was one of the best films of 2000. I love, love, love that film, which contains Michael Douglas's best performance ever. I also loved how Hanson transcended genre, directing with such panache a gritty hiphop musical in 8 Mile, the film noir in L.A. Confidential, psychological horror in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, outdoorsy action thriller in The River Wild, sexy thriller in Bad Influence, and the chick flick in In Her Shoes. That output is awesome, is underrated. Rest in peace, Mr. Hanson.
8:39 PM |
The Fate of ‘Bias’ Media, Courtesy of Hugo Chavez
All this talk about media being biased, being “dilaw,” being a force of destabilization may have a purpose after all. They set the grounds and the mind-set for a possible eventual erasure, or at least diminishment, of freedom of speech -- and the formula may be old. It is Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan media adventure. In the book The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy by William J. Dobson, we first get a glimpse of the Televison Chavez, a man with a rambling TV show where he rants and lambasts and make bold pronouncements... We don’t have a current national equivalent for that yet, but it pays to remember that Davao would know of a similar TV show for years, something called Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa. Now there’s talk of making that a nationwide show. Is Venezuela’s past our future? Read the excerpt from the book:
The centerpiece of Chavez's media universe is his unscripted Sunday afternoon television show, Aló, Presidente (Hello, President). Here, each week, Chavez sings, dances, rams, raves, shouts, jokes, questions, reports, prays, and — sometimes — calls Fidel Castro on the telephone. The show has no precise running time, although it averages a little less than five hours. It is a rambling program that resembles a telethon with a heavy dose of politics — a cross between Jerry Lewis and Glenn Beck but with an emphasis on “the socialism of the twenty-first century.” (For the show’s tenth anniversary, he aired a four-day special episode.) Chavez will often use the show to visit government projects, lambaste his opponents, or denounce the United States. As he downs one cup of coffee after another, he unveils new policies and makes bold announcements. Famously, during one episode, he ordered the head of the military to send ten tank battalions to the Venezuelan-Colombian border. Special guests have included Danny Glover, Diego Maradona, and, of course, Fidel.
Although the showman never acts like a head of state, one of the program's more important elements is the picture it gives of Chavez governing. Amid his monologues and impromptu tirades, Chavez will quiz his ministers — whose attendance is mandatory — often berating them for their failings. The Comandante has even been known to fire a minister live on television. The whole lot of them sit among the audience, wearing socialist red, their heads tilted down, praying that they are not called out on a whim. Chavez dressing down a hapless minister for the pleasure of the viewing audience on national television is what passes for accountability in Venezuela today. It is also a vital part of the image making that keeps him blameless for the country's mounting troubles. The message is clear: if the incompetent ministers and bureaucrats would only do what Chavez told them to do, everything would be fine.
If Chavez's antics are unrehearsed, his creation of a media state is anything but spontaneous. It began in the wake of the April 2002 coup. When Chavez came to power, the Venezuelan government operated one state television channel and two radio stations, and Chavez had done surprisingly little to change that in the early years of his presidency. After the coup, Chavez saw the crucial role the media played in shaping events and, in his view, encouraging his ouster. He referred to the four private television channels as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. "[Chavez's government] saw how weak they were after April 11, 2002," says Canizalez, referring to the short-lived coup. "They realized they were a communication minority, so they developed a strategy to create a strong media infrastructure."
In 2004, the National Assembly provided the government with the legal framework to control the media. The government was given broad discretionary powers to punish slander and disrespect of public officials. Defamation of the president can lead to thirty months in prison, and the government has the right to impose hefty fines on any media company for "offending" public authorities. Two of the major television channels — Venevision and Televen — soon changed their editorial stance to fall in line with the government's wishes. Politically objectionable shows were canceled, and the channels’ focus shifted to entertainment. In one telling example, a popular political talk show was replaced with a program on astrology and tarot readings. A third channel, RCTV, was closed, and the fourth, Globovision, remains in a bitter struggle with the government, always under the threat of sanctions. (In October 2011, for example, Globovision was fined $2 million for reporting on deadly prison riots a few months earlier.) Meanwhile, Chavez has poured millions into creating his own pro-government media conglomerate. Today, there are six government television channels, two national radio stations, three thousand community radio stations, three print media companies, and a growing presence on the Internet. “These channels are clearly a propaganda machine of the state,” Cañizález told me. “It is sort of what you would think of the official state TV of Cuba.”
Perhaps the regime's most sophisticated tool has simply been uncertainty. In August 2009, Chavez shuttered 34 radio stations for alleged “administrative infractions.” At the same time, the government announced that it was investigating 240 other stations for similar violations. However, it never specified which stations were under its microscope, nor did it intend to notify them. With the threat of closure already made real, the government knew the stations would do its censorship for it. In such an environment, any story that comes too close to the edge is either watered down or killed. “Their strategy is to keep them on their heels,” says Cañizález. “This is a way that media critical of the government can exist, but always under threat and at a high cost. Because the government doesn't give a clear set of rules, it puts independent media in a constant state of uncertainty.”
I watched Sharon Maguire's Bridget Jones's Baby (2016) because I thought it was going to be nostalgia fodder, and nothing more, for my 20s. Has it been that long? Yes. But the film proved to be funny and witty, and also a gentle reassurance, especially for people my age, that life deepens and starts, really, in your 40s. It is a worthy successor to the 2001 original and the 1996 Helen Fielding novel, and makes the brilliant choice to wilfully forget the 2004 sequel (that one helmed by Beeban Kidron) and the last two Fielding novels (where she kills off Darcy). There is great satisfaction watching Renée Zellweger return to an iconic role with cheerful humility and gusto, and flaunting the wrinkly truths about getting older with comic panache. All the hijinks of the original -- the earnest chronicling of a singleton's shenanigans, the bumbling presentation that derails Bridget's professional life, the mischief of good friends and the quirkiness of parents, the comical duel of the men in Bridget's life -- return but sharpened with 40-something reality: people are having babies, the biological clock is ticking, life is unsensational beyond the glowing ending of a romance story, and Emma Thompson makes for a great gynaecologist. The titular baby itself -- with the question of whether Colin Firth's Mark Darcy or Patrick Dempsey's Jack Qwant is the father being the plot's driving conflict -- serves more or less as a device for this eternal truth: the heart wants what it wants. I hope people get to watch this movie. It's not everyday we get romantic comedy this good. It's a difficult genre to pull off, and most directors muck it up, plus it doesn't get the same critical consideration of manlier subject matters. I laughed so hard from beginning to end. It was more than worth it.
My missives of late have been, invariably, a plea for silence beyond the noise of the online world.
On September 13, Monday at 5:46 PM, I began it by posting in Facebook: “My body and my soul are aching for silence. A silence that begets productivity. Have deleted three apps so far in my phone.” Alas, there are certainly apps out there that demand our earnest, if haphazard and occasional attention, and yet bring us nothing concrete really to the business of life. Like Tinder. Why do we even have Tinder? Deleted.
I was longing for productivity. I was longing to create, and yet every ounce of me is being seduced by the eternal lure of the Internet. Life has become a business of trying to temper this lure, and find an offline reality that finally sates, because tangible. Every day is a battle to do the right thing, offline. And so, with all the irony that this line can muster, I report that on September 14, Tuesday at 10:34 AM, I posted again on Facebook: “Trying to do and start this day right by getting a proper breakfast at Le Chalet.” And then at 8:44 PM, I posted on Twitter: “Eyes on the ball”—as I found myself in a café where the wifi had conked out, and in the bliss of that disconnection, I found myself writing a story, and finishing certain things I had been meaning to accomplish. And then later that night, at 1:09 AM, finally back home in my apartment, I wrote in Facebook: “One major dragon tamed. Finally. Now, to rest for the meantime. More battles ahead.”
On September 15, I Instagrammed a page from Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist, which I have been trying to read again. The photo bore the following text: “Quick picking fights and go make something.” Later that day, I posted: “I’m trying to ease myself into meditative quiet via Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Exhaling the world, inhaling sweet surrender.”
It has been a battle to find the best terms of that surrender.
It didn’t use to be so alarming. Only a few years ago, our online lives were representations of the personal, if curated. People talked about the travels they did, the books they read, the movies they watched. They food-porned their dinners for Instagram. They quarreled over dresses that looked white-and-gold for some, and blue-and-black for others. Now it is all political noise and murders and suspicions, not just in the Philippines, but also Europe (Brexit), and America (the Trump machine)—making 2016 the most contentious year, ever, since social media took over the world.
And there is no winning any of these arguments at all. I’ve realized that the best argument I can give against EJKs for otherwise good people who cheer for it is to tell them this: “The only way you can convince me about its rightness is when you can honestly see your own hand picking up a gun and shooting these people yourself, without any qualms. Don’t let some anonymous ‘vigilante’ do it for you, if you have conviction for it. I’ll give you a name. Can you pick up that gun? Can you shoot this ‘cancerous’ element of society yourself? And if not, why?” It’s meant to bring the issue to the realm of the personal, away from the abstraction that arises from media reports and Facebook debates.
I can only wish it ends the argument.
Sometimes I blame September. It is the month, after all, that catches Dumaguete’s hangover after the festivities of August—and augurs bitterly for students who suddenly find an accelerated return to academic demands after a long, party-filled vacation. September also brings with it the shock of realization that the year is soon ending. It is the official beginning of the Christmas season for the country, and the Christmas songs blaring everywhere does not bring tidings of good cheer at all but a taunt that says: “It’s almost the end of the year. Time flies by so fast. What have you done with your year?”
And September finally brings with it the memory of two historical horrors: Martial Law and 9/11. September 11, also Marcos’ birthday, is still a day I can never forget. It was the day I first got the surge of feeling of much foreboding, that the future was going to be bleak and more people were going to die. (And I’m feeling this now about our country, frankly speaking.) I was 26 when the towers of the World Trade Center fell, and that was the day the last vestiges of my innocence faded away.
In the Philippines, this month is also when the shadows of a bitter past give us some reckoning again. I traipsed through the literature of the Period of the Republic (roughly 1946-1966) in my Philippine literature classes last Friday—using poems and stories by Rogelio Sicat, Nick Joaquin, Rolando Tinio, and Edith Tiempo as samples to explore post-American colonial literary concerns and developments, especially in the early years of the Republic—but I knew full well that I would have to steel myself for a heady lecture on Martial Law literature by the next week. Which was also perfect, if morbid, timing.
The Martial Law years needed remembering.
The plan for Martial Law, now known as Oplan Sagittarius, was leaked on September 13, 44 years ago. But Marcos was smart enough to provide the mechanism for identifying the leak. Here’s an excerpts from the book The Conjugal Dictatorship by Primitivo Mijares [who was later killed by Marcos]: “One of the best kept secrets of the martial law planning of Marcos was that, when he had finalized the plan and he had come to a decision to impose it, he distributed the copies of the plan in sealed envelopes to the military officials and leaders of the intelligence community. He took great care and caution to assign different Zodiac code-names to the copies he handed out to the would-be martial law enforcers. The first letter of each code-name corresponded to the first letter of the surname of the recipient. The copy that code-named ‘Sagittarius’ went to Gen. Marcos Soliman, a Pampango who was the chief of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA). It was so easy and convenient then to pinpoint Soliman as the source of Aquino. Thus, ranking officers of the armed forces did not have to commit mental dishonesty when they denied the existence of ‘Oplan Sagittarius.’ They were not aware of any game plan by that code-name. However, they did acknowledge to newsmen that the contingency plan was the martial law plan itself.”
Soliman himself died shortly after the leak, ostensibly of a heart attack.
TV4’s InterAksyon has a good archive online that gives us testimonies of some of the people during Martial Law, which lasted from 1972 until 1983—but really continued in an unofficial form even much later. Of Etta Rosales, they wrote: “There was nothing safe about the ‘safehouse’ in Pasig where during the early Martial Law years, then teacher Loretta Ann Rosales and her five companions were brought to. It was in this place where Rosales, who would later head the Commission on Human Rights, was interrogated and tortured for a month by her captors—military agents who turned out to be her students at the Jose Rizal College. Rosales was electrocuted and sexually abused. Hot candle wax was also poured on her skin and a wet cloth was used to suffocate her. Despite her anguish, Rosales says she never thought that it would already be her end: ‘I wasn’t thinking of dying, I was fighting for life.’”
Of Domiciano Amparo, they wrote: “Amparo was one of five persons arrested by government troops in the Mountain Province town of Sagada in 1984. Buried up to his chest in the ground, his captors stomped on him, kicked his face until he lost all feeling there, rode him like a horse, made ashtrays of his shoulders until, feeling he would no longer make it, he was advised to ‘pray, pray all the prayers you know, your time has come…’”
And yet, also last week, we had Imee Marcos pronouncing the unexpected. In some forum, she spoke about how her father may have done things that were wrong, but that he was only human, and he should be forgiven. It shocked me. But somehow, I could actually take that in good faith. It’s not yet enough, but this could be the start of a dialogue. I remember the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s, which was a successful experiment in dealing with historical atrocities (and in South Africa’s case, the long years of the apartheid). It was based on this premise: admit your sin, confront your legacy of bloodshed with everything put on record ... and you will be given amnesty. “Forgive my father,” a Marcos family member finally told us. That’s a kind of admittance that he did do something wrong. It’s a start. Let’s begin.
September is full of noise.
In Maria Popova’s wonderful blog, Brain Pickings, I came across a reminder: “‘There are many fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout,’ Henry David Thoreau observed in contemplating how silence ennobles speech. A year earlier, he had written in his journal: ‘I wish to hear the silence of the night, for the silence is something positive and to be heard.’ It’s a sentiment of almost unbearable bittersweetness today, a century and a half later, as we find ourselves immersed in a culture that increasingly mistakes loudness for authority, vociferousness for voice, screaming for substance. We seem to have forgotten what Susan Sontag reminded us half a century ago—that ‘silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech,’ that it has its own aesthetic, and that learning to wield it is among the great arts of living.”
I am still searching for it, this silence. I hope in the bowels of September, a semblance of it can somehow be found.
“—I know but I let you out last night. I can’t have you out every night.”
“Oh, come on. Don’t tell me that. No.”
“Like I said, no.”
* * *
I read somewhere that a cat’s meow is singularly tailored to its human; every sound that a cat makes evolves to a pattern that corresponds to particularities of meaning, which, over time, a cat owner absorbs, learns, and understands. There’s a meow for I’m hungry. There’s a meow for Stop caressing me now, I want to be alone. There’s a meow for Open the door, and let me out, I need to see my beau. And the human perfectly gets each one, apparently. Cat owners know exactly what their cats are saying. But it is a non-transferable privilege. A cat’s meow apparently will never be understood by another human.
I think of this sometimes whenever I want to marvel at the bond that happens when communication between people is pure, unhindered, and clear. To have the need to pour out your soul, and to find someone willing to listen, that is a measure of a blessed life.
But it is not always easy to listen, even if we seem to find ourselves to be a well-spring of expressiveness. We gossip, we use our electronic devices for an endlessness of chat, we throw our unsolicited opinions to the air where they land as explosive posts in our social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are a morass of so much talking—and people hear without really listening.
The world has become a model of iron-clad irony: in an age of so much information at out fingertips, we have learned to be suspicious of facts; in an age of so much interconnection, we have learned to be distrustful of our friends; and in an age where the means of communicating with each other have become ubiquitous, miscommunication often seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
Read YouTube comments and Facebook posts, and feel the ragged viciousness that has come to define our humanity. They are enough to make anyone recoil.
* * *
It doesn’t help either that sometimes the stars are in cahoots with the demons of miscommunication, disrupting our efforts at being perfectly understood. This year, there are three instances of Mercury going into retrograde, and we are currently living through the final one, between August 30 and September 22. The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains that “sometimes the planets appear to be traveling backward through the zodiac; this is an illusion. We call this illusion retrograde motion.” When the planet Mercury goes into retrograde, communication apparently goes haywire. This is because Mercury rules communication, clear thinking, truthfulness, and travel, and so when the planet goes into this spin, all these things go backwards, they get tangled up. Your travel plans go kaput. Truth becomes obscured. Confusion reigns. And miscommunication happens: your cellphone dies on you, your important email goes into the bulk folder, your letters get lost in the post office.
My friend, the eminent writer Krip Yuson, experienced his retrograde quite early on. Even before August came to an end, his iPhone sputtered to death—which didn’t stop him from ranting about the retrograde in Facebook.
But it pays to be extra careful these days about the things we say and announce. The Duterte government—if this can be an excuse—has been, thus far, a veritable victim of the retrograde devils: every pronouncement of the President has been broadcast, interpreted, and quarreled over. More recently, even before landing in Laos for the ASEAN Summit, his words, always “colorful,” have ignited diplomatic firebombs—particularly the “putang ina” he allegedly lobbied at President Obama. It was unfortunate dirty language that was heard around the world, the perfect soundbyte for a scandal-hungry world. Some people say he has been very disrespectful, unstatesmanlike. Some people say he was grossly misunderstood—“It wasn’t a personal attack!” Reports later came that President Duterte had expressed regret for his choice of words. But later reports also came that his speech during the summit again managed to insult Obama. And even much later reports say Obama did not take any of it personally. And while Philippine traditional media and social media tossed and turned over the nuances of words, Stephen Colbert and other American TV comics suddenly made “Duterte” a familiar name in their comedy routines. The uproar continues.
Welcome to the crazier side of the retrograde.
It doesn’t have to be political, too. The retrograde can be personal, and it is best to anticipate it. We were having a birthday party at one of the swankier night spots in town for one of our American friends. Nalingaw ko sa minor cultural debate namo that night:
“Amerikano bertdey ni or Pinoy bertdey?”
“Amerikano bertdey ni.”
“Hala, sige, bayad ta.”
But you don’t have to take the retrograde seriously. For most people, it is astrological mumbo-jumbo that has no bearing on anyone’s lives at all. Phones die all the time. Emails get unread all the time. Fights flare out all the time. And this: after two months of refusing to turn on, my iPad suddenly whirred back to life today. On the fourth day of the retrograde. Which is not bad at all.
* * *
One cause for misunderstanding is, of course, the opinions we hurl at each other in the nonstop debate chambers of Facebook. I was reading The Guardian online, and I came across this quote by the playwright David Hare: “In an internet age it is, at first glance, democratic to say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That is surely true. It is however a fatal step to then claim that all opinions are equal. Some opinions are backed by fact. Others are not. And those that are not backed by fact are worth considerably less than those that are.”
Hare is apparently writing the screenplay of the film about the 2000 litigation brought about by historian David Irving against author Deborah Lipstadt for her description of him as a Holocaust denier. In this article for The Guardian, Hare evokes the timeliness of the subject matter in an age where historical revisionism is everywhere.
And I’m thinking, if anyone can historically revise the horrors of the Holocaust and make an interpretation of history that is sympathetic to Hitler, what more the Marcoses and Martial Law? The revisionism began on that some time ago, and many Filipinos have drank the Kool-Aid.
Hare writes: “We are entering, in politics especially, a post-factual era in which it is apparently permissible for public figures to assert things without evidence, and then to justify their assertions by adding ‘Well, that’s my opinion’ – as though that in itself was some kind of justification. It isn’t. And such charlatans need to learn it isn’t.” The people who We are entering, in politics especially, a post-factual era in which it is apparently permissible for public figures to assert things without evidence, and then to justify their assertions by adding “Well, that’s my opinion” – as though that in itself was some kind of justification. It isn’t. And such charlatans need to learn it isn’t.”
These are precarious times indeed. The people who speak for Marcos are charlatans. Let them know it.
* * *
I have been grappling about what to do with my Facebook lately. It has become the most unhealthy of things: the venom that spews from it every second is foul, and it has poisoned, generally-speaking, my relationship with many friends, which is spilling out to real life. Every day I’m tempted to deactivate, but much of my work as a writer and as a teacher is bundled with the platform, and so I cannot. But I know I have to somehow find a compromise.
RACHEL LAW EMERY: I hope you can find a happy medium. I’ve seen snippets of the negativity and it is sometimes surprising to me to see the sources.
LORD ALLEN HERNANDEZ (computer programmer): You can start by fighting the urge to log in.
ME: My compromise now involves just parking on my profile page, and never going into the homepage.
SHAKIRA SISON (writer): Wow, this is my struggle now too. Really tempted to delete my mobile social media apps. I might give it a shot.
MAIA RAYMUNDO (biologist): That’s why I made this new one. For exactly that reason. My home feed is so refreshingly positive. #facebookdetox
JAMES NEISH (artist): I struggle with this issue a lot. I hope you don’t mind my two cents: block or unfollow people who just complain and post upsetting things; limit people’s access to your personal stuff; never ‘post to public’ unless you expect a couple of trolls; and limit your usage to just twice a day, 15 minutes at a time, maximum. Oh, and don’t use Facebook as a news source or a place to have intellectual discourse unless it’s with very good friends.
* * *
I came across this article about Facebook freakout and envy at the NPR. The writer Jon Brooks gives his own freakout as an example: “I experienced an emotional flip-flop myself around Thanksgiving of 2008, when I first joined up. For a week or so, I marveled at Facebook’s ability to connect me to people who had long ago faded into the remotest recesses of memory. But by Christmas, I was in the midst of a full-fledged metaphysical breakdown. Those scrolls [sic] down memory lane were killing me... It was the collapse of that natural partition between past and present that I found upsetting, and a few months in, after noting the male-pattern baldness of yet another long-lost pal, I figured out why: Facebook punctured the intransigently juvenile aspect of my personality that had refused to recognize the passage of time. And that, of course, provided yet another piece of evidence for the harshest reality of life: We are all going to die. OK, that was my Facebook freak-out — how about yours?”
Mine is this: some of my friends, and many of them I still love, are “monsters.”
* * *
The apocalypse doesn’t come with mountains trembling and hordes trampling the streets in a spectacle. It comes with sly slowness, baring its fangs intermittently you’d mistake it for a regular smile.
The people of Pompeii were going about an ordinary day with the earth slightly trembling now and then, thinking it was just one of those ordinary murmurs—and then the hot ashes came.
The Jews of Europe dutifully lined up to register when the Nazis took power in the early 1930s, hoping that obeying the anti-Semitic edicts would spare them future indignities. (The list of names would eventually be used systematically to obliterate them in the Holocaust.)
When the Bolsheviks finally seized power in Russia in October 1917, it was through a very quiet coup. The revolution that had gotten rid of the czar was actually begun by other people and had occurred early that year in February, leading to an interim government. But people tried to go about as usual, ignoring the signs of the coming systematic and wholesale bloodletting that would last from Lenin in 1917, to Stalin in the 1940s. “On the evening of October 25 [in 1917], Princess Meshchervsky went to the opera in Petrograd,” Douglas Smith writes in Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. “She noticed some trouble with the lights and a strange atmosphere in the theatre, but nothing out of the ordinary. Her experiences accord with most others in the city that night, for whom life, though chaotic and unpredictable, was uneventful.”
That made me pause. People went to the opera when the apocalypse came.
FLOY QUINTOS (playwright): Thank you for this. A quiet warning. The princess going to the opera...
ME: She refused to leave Russia, Floy. She even castigated her son who managed to escape.
BEN S. MALAYANG III (Silliman President): Facts. Disturbing. Truth. Now and always?
ME: Now and always, Sir Ben. It really pays to study—and remember—history.
MALAYANG: … And perchance not to repeat its evils.
ME: Pero, sir, nobody believes in history repeating. One begins to feel like a Cassandra in Greek mythology.
MALAYANG: History itself is not a repeating recurrence. It is its edifying and evil moments that are, crafted by its repeating confluence of virtues and vices.
ANA CENIZA MONTEBON (designer): As I read your post, this popped into my head and thus I share, from John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
MALAYANG: Very nice, An!
MONTEBON: Thanks, Ben. Actually here also is the first line na wala na apil diay nako na apil copy.
MALAYANG: Bitaw. Thank you.
MONTEBON: Ako lang pud ni i-share kay so significant for our present times. [Here’s] the accompanying write up to the verse: “In the Catholic tradition, all humanity is connected in the Body of Christ, and all are equal before God; in the Afterlife, there is no more male or female, Jew or Greek. The Bible states that ‘we are many parts, but we are all part of one body in Christ’ and that ‘there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” The implication for the individual living on Earth is that he is part of a greater whole, such that the death-bell has deep and significant meaning for everyone who hears it. We are all in this life together and part of the same divine plan, so the bell does toll for the sake of all who have ears to hear it.
MALAYANG: Creatures with life—however they differ in form, vices or virtues—have one thing in common: it is their having the phenomenon of life (the “thing” called life) and life—in whichever creature it resides or occurs—is the breath of God. Snuffing out life, it seems to me, is akin to snuffing out God.
SOL CORONG (cultural worker): That’s why nakakatakot din ang listahan ngayon sa atin. Baka gamitin sa masama.
* * *
I have been mulling over Department of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade’s statement for hours now. “A state of mind adds to the problem of traffic. Let’s stop blaming traffic. If you’re late, that’s that.” I still don’t know what it means. It’s a sentence so opaquely constructed, it’s practically begging for misinterpretation.
What does it mean? “A state of mind.” That refers to individual psychology, right? Hence, the individual? Hence, you? So you and your mindset adds to the problem of traffic. “Let’s stop blaming traffic.” That means, traffic is not at fault. “If you’re late, that’s that.” That means, it’s your fault. Hence: the traffic is fine, you’re the problem.
Still doesn’t sound right in many levels.
MACKY CALO (businessman): Tumpak! Tagalog na lang kaya!
ORLANDO RONCESVALLES (economist): I think [Tugade] understands that traffic is a Tragedy of the Commons, which is a problem of unrealized expectations. In the classic tragedy, every farmer (motorist) thinks he can fatten his cow (drive fast), but, since everyone else has the same state of mind, the cows get thin (traffic grinds). Of course, the solution is to make the “victims” behave better. For the commons, it is to give or sell to individual farmers their own land. For traffic, it would be to charge motorists a fair price to drive, i.e. tolls and higher car registration fees. Singapore, Hong Kong, London, the greater L.A. area have already implemented this, with varying success.
ERIKA PERALTA (writer): State of mind... Hmm, let’s say we shift our thinking/belief and turn to the opposite, which is “traffic” is not a problem. What would a person with this kind of belief do? He will leave [home] as usual, use the usual routes, get a job even if it’s relatively far from his residence, does not blame train delays, road works, etc. He takes responsibility and adjusts. Even so, he will observe that his external reality would [only] still get in the way: hours wasted on the road, pollution, commitments compromised, and so on. The individual could always adjust. But again, it can only do so much. This state of mind “works” on some levels by making us more aware of how much control we have, e.g., not giving in to road rage, making ways to travel more conveniently. But the immense beauty of good transportation system should never be reduced to a far-off “national wish.”
TINA CUYUGAN (writer): I would take Tugade’s words in a better spirit if the Duterte propaganda machine had not spewed millions of tweets blaming Aquino and Roxas for the traffic and claiming that Great God Duterte would wave a magic wand and all would be well on the highways and byways.
JUSTINE CAMACHO TAJONERA (writer): You’re right. His bottom line was: it’s the commuter’s fault that he’s late. If you allotted 2.5 hours to make it to work and traffic got you there in 3 hours, you must adjust your life. Clearly, Tugade has no empathy for the Filipino commuter.
CUYUGAN: Possibly because he now has a government car assigned for his use.
RONCESVALLES: But that car would also suffer traffic.
CUYUGAN: He doesn’t have to line up, though.
RONCESVALLES: Just wait till they make personal drones. We can buy them using intel funds.
The apocalypse doesn't come with mountains trembling and hordes trampling the streets in a spectacle. It comes with sly slowness, baring its fangs intermittently you'd mistake it for a regular smile. The people of Pompeii were going about an ordinary day with the earth slightly trembling now and then, thinking it was just one of those ordinary murmurs -- and then the hot ashes came. The Jews of Europe dutifully lined up to register when the Nazis took power in the early 1930s, hoping that obeying the anti-Semitic edicts would spare them future indignities. (The list of names would eventually be used systematically to obliterate them in the Holocaust.) When the Bolsheviks finally seized power in Russia in October 1917, it was through a very quiet coup. The revolution that had gotten rid of the czar was actually begun by other people and had occurred early that year in February, leading to an interim government. But people tried to go about as usual, ignoring the signs of the coming systematic and wholesale bloodletting that would last from Lenin in 1917, to Stalin in the 1940s. "On the evening of October 25 [in 1917], Princess Meshchervsky went to the opera in Petrograd," Douglas Smith writes in Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. "She noticed some trouble with the lights and a strange atmosphere in the theatre, but nothing out of the ordinary. Her experiences accord with most others in the city that night, for whom life, though chaotic and unpredictable, was uneventful." That made me pause. People went to the opera when the apocalypse came.
Artists can be vampires, and writers most of all. And sometimes the surging ego of genius dictates that people in their lives must be consumed, and then discarded. (This was a running theme in Dean Alfar's novel Salamanca.) I know some writers who are exactly like this. In Genius (2016), Michael Grandage's respectable -- if plodding -- exploration of the relationship between the writer Thomas Wolfe and the editor Maxwell Perkins, we see the illustration of such a man. Not only does Wolfe treat Perkins, the man who championed his work when no one else would, with such vampiric discard, he did the same with other people who dared to love him -- most especially the artist and writer Aline Bernstein, who took care of him while he wrote Look Homeward, Angel. In this scene, Aline finally closes the door between them, in what for me is the most resonant scene in the film.